Despite the small school population of 342 students, even Custer Elementary School is not exempt from bullying, according to two parents.
Speaking to the Custer School District Board of Education during its open forum session Thursday, March 16, parents Troy Schmitz and Jennifer Doll came to bring awareness to the “harassment, racism and bullying” in the school.
“I’m not sure if the stance of ‘it’s not happening’ is correct,” Schmitz said, adding that many parents asked him to speak, as they are “afraid to come here.”
“I see two sides of it that are very far apart: some say it’s not happening at all, while a few people in this community say it is very real. There must be common ground in the middle,” he added.
Schmitz said bullying is going on, whether people realize it or not.
“I hope to find a way to address favoritism of some groups over others as well as the harassment that is happening and how to stop it,” he said.
“It sucks having my son bawl about going to school,” Doll said. “Just because a kid is poor, black, white or whatever, it’s not right to single them out.”
Doll said the board and administrators should look at the school’s policies and implement consequences for bullying.
“Maybe ask yourself what kind of things we can do to make sure the policies are being followed,” she said. “It would be great if we could do training with kids, parents and teachers.”
“We want our children to feel safe and like they can participate,” Schmitz said.
Prior to the meeting, school board member Dan Sedlacek submitted his resignation from the board due to to the bullying issue.
“I have an issue with my son that I want to get resolved,” he said. “It was implied that certain people couldn’t get a fair shake as long as I was on the board.”
Sedlacek said, when it comes to bullying, he would like the school to look into the source.
“A lot of the time, the kids claiming to be bullied are usually at the start of it,” he said. “I think these kids should be brought together in a room to better see what is going on.”
Sedlacek said he would like the district to adopt a parents’ code of conduct, much like students and teachers have codes of conduct.
“Parents shouldn’t be allowed to yell at teachers, principals or anyone else,” he said. “We should expect our parents to behave the same way as students.”
With regret, the board accepted Sedlacek’s resignation.
“I deeply regret that he felt he had to resign,” said board member Tanya Olson.
“I spent time visiting with Dan about this and he believes it is in the best interest of his family and himself,” said Tom Martin, board president.
The board listened to a presentation from Jenn Johnson of TSP, the architectural firm that completed a facilities assessment of Custer School District. Johnson presented the final document, which was created with information from a district-wide committee made up of teachers, administrators, community representatives and business people.
The facilities plan collected data from the district’s enrollment and population, floor plans, operational costs, bus routes, educational patterns and its mission, vision and educational curriculum.
With that information, the committee considered the “good, bad and ugly” of the district.
“We came up with recommendations on what to do with existing facilities and potential future facilities,” Johnson said.
At Hermosa school, the committee came up with six options for the facility: build-out in the small gym, add modular classrooms, add future classrooms to the south, expand to the west of the gym, add a middle school and a campus to the west.
“Students and teachers are absolutely maxed out; the nurses work out of the concession stand and the art teacher has a cart,” Johnson said. “The committee voted to bring in modulars until a master plan can be created.”
At Custer Elementary School, four options were given: relocating fifth and sixth grades back to the Armory, adding modular classrooms, building a middle school wing to the east or adding classrooms to the north.
“Modular classrooms were voted for,” Johnson said. “This was favored rather than new construction.”
At Custer Jr./Sr. High School, five options were listed: relocating sixth, seventh and eighth grades to the Armory, adding modular classrooms, constructing future middle school or support classrooms to the west, expanding to the east with vo-tech classrooms and building an event facility to the east. The committee voted in favor of adding vo-tech classrooms, which would reduce demand and open up space for middle school classrooms.
“There was talk about growing the vo-tech program and this was a great option for that,” Johnson said.
There were also suggestions for the Armory and early childhood development facilities.
For the Armory, it was suggested that middle school classes relocate there, the Armory become a future vo-tech classroom center or even a community college in partnership with Western Dakota Tech, or the facility become apartments and offer affordable housing or become a business incubator. The community college partnership was voted on.
“That option lets high school kids take college courses, but also people in the community who want to go back to school or start their new future,” Johnson said.
Concerning the YMCA’s early childhood development facility, three options were listed: become the future kindergarten site, pre-kindergarten classrooms or administration offices. Having the building hold all special education classes was also mentioned.
“Votes were across the board, but the highest voted was moving administration offices there,” Johnson said. “It would benefit them since they are closer to the main campus instead of across town.”
No decision was made Thursday night.
“This is just purely information,” said Mark Naugle, superintendent. “I want to get more eyes on it and then we can discuss it more next month.”
However, Naugle said he wants to come up with a solution for Hermosa School by the start of next school year.
“I want to alleviate some pressure for them,” he added.
Board members expressed their support for the facilities plan.
“I feel like this is very reflective of our community,” said Olson. “We’re pragmatic, but not above dreaming. I feel like this turned out really well and gives us the data and support as we move on for future decisions.”
Naugle proposed adding around $25,000 to the general fund budget to make part-time high school language arts teacher Karen Karim into a full-time teacher. As such, Karim will teach English language arts to junior high, as the incoming seventh grade class is large enough to warrant a second teacher. It will also help with the class’ reading level, according to Custer Jr./Sr. High School principal Orion Thompson.
“I like that we’re putting the kids in front of a teacher who will also teach them freshman English,” he said. “They will already have a rapport and have a path carved for them.”
Morgan asked how long the position would be full-time.
Thompson said he hoped it would be a permanent job, since large class numbers are coming from Custer Elementary and Hermosa schools, as well as more home-schooled students.
“For this year and even next, I don’t see numbers dipping to make it (temporary),” he said.
“To spend money because it sounds like a good idea isn’t a good reason. But this is a tangible thing,” Prior said. “It’s a good reason to spend money if our English department has sat down and discussed that this is what we need to offer to better our kids to move on to high school.”
“That is my motivation,” said Thompson. “Our English department has started moving in a very productive direction and this is one of the things they have had a discussion about. And I think this is something we can provide them.”
“We as a board have talked about bringing up our proficiency in math and English-language arts,” Olson said. “This spending is in support of those goals.”
Morgan was hesitant to vote to spend the money, as he wondered about Karim’s potential retirement.
“I don’t have a problem with the position itself, but we have somebody who has taught in the district as half-time for 12 years, and then years before retirement, goes to full-time. Now (she) retires with full benefits,” he said. “We have no idea what kind of jumbled up mess we are getting into both here and in Pierre (with the Department of Education).”
Naugle said the retirement benefits would go up, should Karim retire as a full-time teacher.
“I’m not the expert in this, but we would pay our half of that,” he said.
The proposal passed 5-1, with Morgan the sole board member voting against it.
The board approved the hiring of three additional track and field assistant coaches at a cost of around $5,000, to come out of the district’s contingency fund.
According to Craig Black, Custer High School track and field coach, the high school has 80 athletes and four coaches, while the junior high school track and field team has 100 athletes and three coaches and Hermosa School has 30 kids and one coach. Each of the teams will receive one additional coach to help with athletics and ensure safety. The coaching roles will be temporary and just for this season.
The next Custer School District Board of Education meeting will be Monday, April 10, at 6 p.m. at the Custer Administration building.